County tries to get veterans court up and running

Veterans are first identified for eligibility during their jail processing

By Matt Fritz
Associated Press

LAPORTE, Ind. (AP) — One lost a quarter of his brain during military duty, another pulled bodies from the Pentagon rubble following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and another came home for a career in law enforcement only to find domestic troubles of his own.

All three found themselves in the court system after their service, and all three were helped by the Porter County Veterans Court, a reason why LaPorte County is trying to get its own veterans court up and running.

Judge Julia Jent, supervisor of the Porter County Veterans Court, told the story of a man whose career as a police officer was jeopardized one night when the post-traumatic stress from his combat experience resulted in his striking his wife and children and getting a domestic battery charge, a charge that could result in his termination from the force. She spoke to a group of LaPorte County veterans, court judges and area politicians at the LaPorte Veterans of Foreign Wars Post.

She said the man could have lost his job, and career, instead he was given the opportunity to attend a series of treatment programs to deal with his anger issues. This was the purpose of the problem solving courts, which not only give veterans help, but also place them in support groups where they can continually receive treatment.

“The second or third time they come, they sit together like a hierarchy in the military,” she told The LaPorte County Herald-Argus. “They support each other. If someone has an issue someone else will speak out for them. They become a cohesive unit. They’re not criminals.”

In the Porter County Veterans Court, veterans are first identified during their jail processing. Their information is then sent to the Veterans’ Justice Outreach, which checks for their eligibility, then their court case manager does an assessment and makes sure they have a public defender or attorney.

If they accept help from the program, they must sign up with Veterans Affairs and accept the treatment programs it offers, like Alcoholics Anonymous, depending on their crime.
Any treatment they need that’s not covered by the VA, such as anger management or a cognitive behavior programs, is then handled by the county.

“It’s all about making sure they get the structure back into their lives and show up for work,” said problem solving case manager Jackie Algozine.

But Jent pointed out that the most important part about this program is the support group it offers.

This includes a veteran’s mentor who’s experienced combat and knows what the affected veteran is going through.

Judges Thomas Alevizos, Jenniver Koethe and William Boklund attended the meeting and said the county was pursuing a similar court, especially since it’s started a new court addressing people with drug issues.

Alevizos said it was a matter now of getting the stakeholders together — the VJO, treatment providers, veterans and court representatives — to go through the planning process, getting a flowchart together and determining what treatments are available to vets.

Alevizos said the courts do take a veteran’s background into account when they judge him, but this isn’t the same as offering the support a special court would provide.
“If you give them a pass without treating the underlying condition,” he said, “you’re not solving the problem.” Jent pointed out that public safety was number one in her program, so crimes like murder, kidnapping or rape are not covered.

And the Porter County system, unlike the veteran courts in some states, will offer services to some veterans who didn’t see combat (like the man who pulled bodies out of the Pentagon) or those who were dishonorably discharged. But this depends on circumstances.

Her program handles both misdemeanors and felonies, but the felonies are largely covered by the department of corrections, while she has to do fundraising for the $85,000 needed for the misdemeanor part of her program.

She noted that it was important to address misdemeanors before they become felons.